Bungie continues trying to balance the Crucible while ignoring the more pertinent problems of Destiny.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have achieved the ability to ignore anything even remotely related to Bungie’s Destiny, then you’ll know that update 2.0 for the online shooter is now live. This 17.65 GB patch brought a whole bevy of changes and effectively prepares the game for The Taken King, the next big expansion in the Destiny universe. It also offers a free preview of The Taken King’s Crucible maps and modes including Rift and Mayhem Clash, thus letting anyone try out the new PvP content. The question is: Do these changes finally make Destiny live up to the hype and potential promised before its initial release?
Because it’s such a big part of the update, weapons need to be addressed. Bungie not only took to balancing out specific weapons but essentially nerfed Year One perks overall. Field Scout no longer increases both your reserves and magazine size – instead, you’re stuck only with extra reserve ammo. Perfect Balance and Send It no longer provide huge bumps in stability and range. Oddly enough, though perks like Shot Package and Rangefinder on shotguns have been nerfed, I still found them to be especially deadly from several feet away (though they aren’t always guaranteed one-shot kills now).
"Pulse rifles still kill with 2 to 3 precision hit bursts, damage against AI opponents has been increased and there’s only a slight drop in stability."
Thorn has actually been buffed but the changes to its Damage Over Time perk now mean it won’t kill in two shots. You need at least two headshots and a body shot to effectively kill foes – hand cannons as a whole have faced nerfs so along with the changes to Year One perks overall, Thorn has effectively been curbed as a “sniper” or revolver/scout rifle hybrid. The Last Word, on the other hand, has had its range and stability effectively neutered. You’ll need to get in up close and personal to kill foes. At that point, you might as well just use a shotgun.
Other changes to weapons like Icebreaker (7 seconds to regenerate ammo now, which didn’t feel as consequential as I thought), Gjallarhorn (33 percent reduction in Wolfpack damage) and SUROS Regime (added range though it suffers massive damage drop off after a point) are also obvious. That being said, I never had trouble annihilating enemies in PvP with Gjallarhorn and its Wolfpack rounds did a good job of cleaning up. It hasn’t lost much of its lethal power in PvE either – bosses’ health meters still drop very quickly when Gjallarhorn is out. Assault rifles have been viable and weapons like Hard Light have seemingly found a use now. Scout rifles are still pretty good though their effectiveness as medium to long range weapons hasn’t changed.
As it stands, the update favours pulse rifle users. Pulse rifles still kill with 2 to 3 precision hit bursts, damage against AI opponents has been increased and there’s only a slight drop in stability. Weapons like Hopscotch Pilgrim have faced nerfs in their rate of fire to compensate for low recoil but they’re still a bigger threat than Thorn or The Last Word. Sniper rifles are favoured simply due to the design of some maps, which we’ll get into, but aside from the increased difficulty of sniping, they feel largely unchanged. There have been reports of damage drop-off on the Icebreaker, a sniper rifle with maximum range though so don’t expect everything to be working perfectly.
With update 2.0, Bungie has doubled Vault Space across the board, which is a godsend for many hardcore players. It’s good to finally see some free space in my vault after so long and the addition of Exotic Collections, Emblem Kiosks and such are also a plus. You can’t pick up Year Two Exotic upgrades just yet since Legendary marks are required. Also, the Stranger’s Rifle is now a Legendary weapon which can be ascended with Legendary marks. One wonders how this will work out when No Time to Explain, the Year Two variant, arrives in The Taken King. There are new Shaders, which predictably range from passable to awful, and Emblems. Shaders also now apply to Exotics, so you can finally have that black coloured Heart of the Praxic Fire you’ve always wanted.
"At times it felt like these ‘quests’ were made with the sole purpose of showing off the new Quest screen rather than fundamentally overhauling how Destiny does quests. "
Players also have the chance to turn in bounties from the new Quest screen, rather than returning to the Tower or Reef again. I’ll be honest – the new Quest screen should have been included in the base game. Not only does it provide a visually appealing means of tracking quests, but it also facilitates including lore inside the game. What a novel concept! The ability to track bounties and quests by simply holding your Ghost out is also a great change. You can also choose to visit the Quests kiosk and re-experience the old story missions with the new Ghost voice acting.
That being said, some of the new quests are…odd. When you begin the game, you’ll find quests for the various subclasses like Path of the Voidwalker for example. These multi-tiered quests challenge you to complete various steps for different items. These are particularly simple as you must kill enemies with Voidwalker abilities and generate orbs. However, the first step I encountered was hitting level 30…but I was already level 30. I actually had to return to Orbit, receive a notification from the Tower and travel back to proceed to the next step.
Though some of the steps become more difficult – like killing enemies in a Strike with Nova Bomb three times and generating seven orbs of light each time – they weren’t impossible. Then again, they weren’t really much different from the Bounties either (and thank the lord Bungie finally added some new Bounties to the game). At times it felt like these “quests” were made with the sole purpose of showing off the new Quest screen rather than fundamentally overhauling how Destiny does quests. Some of the more random new additions – like the Sparrow “racing” and jumbled word puzzles in Patrol – feel much more interesting than the existing subclass quests. Time will tell how many more intriguing mysteries The Taken King introduces and how the new quests will pan out.
And to think, the Warlock quests are easy. Titan Defenders have a quest where they must kill enemies within the Ward of Dawn and already players are complaining about many of the kills not counting towards the quest at times. There are other quests to be had including Exotic Quests with the various Factions which earn you Exotic class items. Because of the way the new Light and Leveling system works, class items now add to your Light score – affecting damage and defense – and the Exotic class items have the highest defense rating (plus they can be worn with normal Exotic gear). Unfortunately, these Exotic quests are accessible only at rank 25 of a Faction so you’ll need to grind a lot to even use them.
"It was always a concern from the day of his announcement as Ghost whether he’d be able to overcome the mediocre writing. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be case."
Overall, the quality of life improvements make things easier for hardcore players. Many of the new features still conform to Destiny’s bad habits of grinding. To access Exotic Faction Class items, you need to grind. To receive weapons from the Gunsmith with random perks, you need to take any number of his crappy field test weapons and grind (and sadly those five weapons you have to “field test” don’t refresh daily – those are the five to be used in one week). To earn new Legendary gear, you need to grind for Legendary marks when The Taken King launches but they’re maxed at 200. You’re not capped for the week like before but that means – you guessed it – more grinding is possible. Weirdly enough, the new Vanguard Legacy Strike playlist – which accommodates all the Year One strikes – gives no rewards currently. While this will change when The Taken King is out (possibly), it’s not doing much to sell vanilla players on continuing to play.
Of course, Destiny’s story issues are all the more apparent when you consider Nolan North as the new voice of Ghost. Honestly, it’s entirely subjective which voice you prefer better and I personally found North to have more personality than Peter Dinklage. The problem is that his tone seems at odds with some of the situations, oftentimes a bit too cheery (one friend was driven mad by hearing his constant chirping of “Guardian Down” in some Crucible matches). Other times, his voice acting simply couldn’t overcome the horrible writing as evidenced by “We’ve woken the Hive” or “Careful, its power is…dark”. It was always a concern from the day of his announcement as Ghost whether he’d be able to overcome the mediocre writing. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be case.
As for The Taken King’s Crucible modes, what is there to really say? Rift revolves around carrying a Spark into an enemy’s base and effectively bombing it. Mayhem Clash is basically team death match but with rapidly recharging Supers. It’s very interesting how both modes serve as polar opposites to the problems of Destiny’s current PvP structure.
As an aside, the problems of increased cool downs for various abilities – due to Bungie restructuring said ability cool downs to now have “tiers” – could upset those with internal timers. This is primarily due to the gear though and it’s expected that things will normalize once more powerful gear from The Taken King releases.
"Mayhem Clash, on the other hand, is a blast. It’s amazing how much more fun Destiny’s PvP becomes when Bungie just goes crazy with it all."
With Rift, it ultimately comes down to communication. Suffice to say, this is a mode that favours coordinated teams better but for the most part, teams that camp the Spark with sniper rifles, pulse rifles and scout rifles before taking it will always win out in the end, simply by pure percentage of kills and distance achieved from running. Spawn killing is also a problem, which can be chalked up to the limited number of areas to spawn into (the map being effectively cut in half).
There’s also the fact that Destiny’s Supers and Heavy weapons upset the balance of what could be a very competitive mode. It’s hard to really risk grabbing the Spark when the enemy team can just rocket it into oblivion (tracking rockets are still OP, even after the patch). It’s hard to really push forward when an enemy can camp the Spark, activate their Super and annihilate anyone instantly. I did find it kind of cool how one needs to guess which lanes a runner is coming through and how you could fake out enemy defenders on the radar by attacking from the front while your runner sneaks through the back. Such moments were few and far between sadly.
This isn’t to say that Bungie should remove both elements from Rift – it’s just that if you weren’t a fan of Destiny’s Crucible before, than Rift won’t do much to change your mind. Matchmaking changes on the other hand, which break up teams if matches come across as lopsided, are a joke. Sure, no game is perfect when it comes to balancing teams but I rarely participated in a close match in the past few days, much less a victorious one. Every single team I was on simply got stomped into oblivion or had the Mercy rule inflicted, whether playing alone or playing with a friend and other randoms. Lag wasn’t immense during all games but definitely noticeable every so often. Did I mention that pulse rifles dominate the Crucible now, effectively melting you immediately? This seems to be the curse of every Destiny PvP meta – when one dominant weapon (or two) falls, another rises to take its place. It’s fun to use SUROS Regime in an actual killing capacity though it’s still far from the best viable Crucible weapon.
Mayhem Clash, on the other hand, is a blast. It’s amazing how much more fun Destiny’s PvP becomes when Bungie just goes crazy with it all. The constantly recharging Supers aren’t so much game-changers as they are a common occurrence, heavy ammo now drops from killing opponents who’ve picked up the same and provide an equalizer of sorts, and overall, the cooldowns on abilities aren’t absolutely unbalanced on one side or the other. How hilarious is it that even the matchmaking was good at properly finding evenly matched games in what’s meant to be the “party style” mode of PvP? Meanwhile, another quick trip to Rift ensures I enter a game which ends two minutes later thanks to the Mercy rule (a new feature which effectively stops matches early if one team is crushing the other). This too after several minutes of waiting in matchmaking.
"At this point, you don’t need a preview from The Taken King’s Crucible content if you’re already a fan of the game. You’ve already ordered the expansion and are counting down the days, grinding out Armsday rep, leveling up Factions and trying to complete subclass quests."
It’s a shame really because the new maps are frankly gorgeous and offer their own unique little approaches, much more so than the current crop. Memento is a claustrophobic map set on the streets of the European Dead Zone, offering long lanes to run but tight corners and multiple levels to ambush foes (shotgun and Axiom Bolt fans take note). Frontier is an interesting map with its bridge in the middle and Bannerfall looks great, even if it’s easy to just camp the three central doorways leading to the map’s centre and slaughter foes. The Drifter felt too claustrophobic like Thieves’ Den but balanced out with wide open areas. The standout maps are easily Vertigo and Crossroads, the former due to its multi-tiered structure and portals while the latter is a wide open battlefield with man cannons and portals. One hopes to get Crossroads more often – that map was some of the most fun I’ve had in Destiny PvP in a long, long while.
At this point, you don’t need a preview from The Taken King’s Crucible content if you’re already a fan of the game. You’ve already ordered the expansion and are counting down the days, grinding out Armsday rep, leveling up Factions and trying to complete subclass quests. Quite frankly, nothing can make you quit this game and you deserve Bungie’s respect.
If you’re not a Destiny player and aren’t really sure what the fuss is about, then the numerous changes to the game’s systems are worth investigating. Ultimately, it will depend on how much you favour a tight story campaign with lovable characters and effectively fun gunplay. Destiny still has the gunplay to fall back on even after effectively maiming its most powerful weapons but the base game itself is still very average. At this point though, there are plenty of great single-player games with excellent shooting mechanics so Destiny needs to bring more to the forefront with its PvE.
I’m looking forward to The Taken King’s story content more than anything because it looks like it might actually foster its universe and characters as opposed to tacking on badly written dialogue and forgettable NPCs. It will also be worth it to see how the new leveling and Light system works before Bungie effectively overhauls it all again. There’s currently not much incentive to invest in Destiny and The Taken King for PvP though. Even if the weapon variety in Crucible is better than before, a new meta involving pulse rifles has already begun to emerge. Whether the PvP can ever truly be “balanced” when you factor in OHK rocket launchers, OHK Supers, weapons with their own unique and deadly perks and subclasses with their varying degrees of effectiveness remains to be seen. In my opinion, aside from Mayhem Clash, there’s nothing that new players will really find out of this world or interesting in Destiny: The Taken King’s PvP. Stay tuned for more information the expansion’s campaign and end-game activities before taking the plunge.